Danielle Brooks of Orange Is The New Black: 'We Weren't Going To Sugarcoat Things'


By Samantha Henderson

She steals the show as Taystee in Netflix's prison drama. Before beginning season 2, Brooks talked about her experience on the set and her on-screen female relationship

Pictured: Danielle Brooks (center) with co-stars Samira Riley (left) and Lea DeLaria (right) on 'Orange is the New Black' (Netflix)

Taystee’s background story struck viewers as one of the most heartbreaking. Was it difficult to play?

DB: Of course. The most heartbreaking thing about it is that it’s truthful. It’s real life. That's what’s challenging about playing this character, that more than one person out there is living that life. I definitely feel for Taystee. Sometimes I get emotional thinking about her because it’s so relatable. All they know is the streets and prison, and they don’t have anyone in their lives. Taystee found structure in prison, and I feel like if she had had one mentor in her life, she would’ve been ok. Here she feels like she has a family. That is consistent enough for her. She knows they’ll be there for six months or a year and a half. Getting to play her as truthfully as I can is a gift. I’m very thankful.

What was the most challenging part for you?

DB: The biggest challenge was not playing for laughs. [Taystee is] just really funny. Allowing that to be, but not playing at it, was challenging because I want to audience to laugh where they want to laugh and not be like, “This is where you’re supposed to laugh, hahaha.” That was important to me and it helped me find the depth of her, to just be her.

Are you afraid of being typecast?

DB: You know, it’s crazy when you [get to an audition] and get a breakdown: ghetto, big black woman, sassy. Like, it’s annoying. And when you’re not given material to do anything with for [your character]. At least, when I was given the script [for Orange], I thought, yes she’s sassy, yes she’s all that, but again, she’s way more than that, and they allow me to explore that on the show.

What would you say is your best memory from the set?

DB: Um, I think the Taystee rap! Getting to be in that room with all those women, it was so amazing and warm, and there was just such a camaraderie with all these women cheering. When we rehearsed the scene, there wasn’t the big crowd of women. But when I got all this energy, I swear the whole way I rapped was different because it became something new. Another one of my favorite moment is the scene with Samira in the library. But episode 10, “Beyond Scared Straight”, is my favorite episode when the bad kids come from the Scared Straight program and Crazy Eyes does the Shakespeare. It was brilliant. I was so mad I wasn’t on set that day! Why did Taystee go away during this scene? Oh man.

Did you come up with the rapping and singing yourself?

DB: No, that was the writers. I did come up with the beat for the rap, the way it flowed, that was me. The writer said, “What can you do with it?” The only other time that it was us was the pageant. It was supposed to be the Hallelujah chorus and we were like, “No. We’re going to spice it up.” We spent maybe hours working on that and coming up with songs that wouldn’t cost the producers any money. 

Do you have any spoilers for us for season two?

DB: If I did, I would have to take you with me and lock you in a room. I did just finish an episode of Girls season three, but I don’t want to spoil it for you guys. Another show that explores female relationships in a grittier way. I play a totally different character, for sure.

On Orange, where would like to see your relationship with Poussey go?

DB: I don't know what’s happening, but I’m hoping for some conflict between friends. I think that’s fun to watch. I want to see them get in trouble together. I don’t know, try to escape prison together—that would be fun.

That seems like something Taystee would try to do.

DB: And I think Poussey would be right there with her.

That could be a whole spin-off.

DB: We could hold it down, for real. That would be awesome. Let’s go, let’s go!